#NationalSchoolWalkout – Grown Ups Need to Listen

Student activists, responding to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, organized a national walk out to memorialize murdered classmates, to protest gun violence, and to call for national action from elected officials.  Across the country, at exactly 10am, 100s of thousands of students (100,000 in New York City alone) walked out of their classrooms to participate in a 17 minute long protest, one minute for each victim of the Parkland shooting.  Scenes from across the country:

 

Adults had various levels of difficulty accepting what the students had to say.  Citing safety and disruption concerns, school districts around the country threatened disciplinary action if students participated in the walk out.  And, of course, people continued to lob vile opinions about some of the organizers of the Never Again movement, such as Republican candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, Leslie Gibson, who called Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez a “skinhead lesbian” and referred to her schoolmate David Hogg as  a “bald-faced liar.”  Fox News host Sean Hannity used his radio show to first brag a little about the purity of his racial ancestry and then to dismiss the student marchers as indoctrinated.

It is 2018 and gun violence is a polarizing issue, so the vileness is expected and fairly easy to flip on the perpetrators.  What is less expected but also troubling is the viral response that students should not “Walk Out” but rather “Walk Up,” meaning that they should make an effort to include others and to break down social barriers that are at the root of bullying and exclusion in our schools.  #WalkUpNotOut trended on social media, typified by images like this:

This idea is painfully, almost achingly, well-intentioned by most of those promoting it.  However, it misses the mark in several important ways. First, the syntax of “Walk Up Not Out” directly tells students NOT to participate in the Walk Out and use their free speech rights in their chosen manner.  Several graphics for the idea actually cross out the word “Out” to replace it with “Up” as if participating in a one time protest is antithetical to participating in daily kindness.  Second, it conflates equally important issues that deserve their own platform.  The Walk Out was organized to signal that students and their supporters are weary of America’s massively disproportionate share of the developed world’s gun violence and that they are willing to take political action to change that.  The concept of walking up is one that tries to confront the issues of gun violence with issues of bullying and social isolation – issues that deserve their own independent attention.  It is true that bullying victims are twice as likely to bring a weapon to school, but the assumed link between bullying and mass shootings is empirically unverified. “Walking up” is likely a good basis for reducing the risks of teen suicide, but as a response to mass shootings, it is not strongly correlated.

Other critics quickly pointed out that the “walk up” meme is attempting to deflect attention from America’s outlier position regarding guns and gun violence and to place the blame for mass shootings on the victims themselves.  If the shooter had been treated better, then the victims would not have been victimized:

Although many quickly protested that was not their intention, I cannot help but to agree with the accusation of victim blaming.  Many places, frequently schools, could be much kinder environments that eschew bullying and offer people inclusion and warmth.  But the need for that change should not be held up as a reason to tell young people to halt their creative protests on other issues, nor should anti-bullying efforts be conflated with addressing gun violence.  And above all, the responsibility for addressing and alleviating bullying within schools lays squarely upon the shoulders of the adults who run the place and have ultimate authority over what goes on in school.  A school culture of bullying can be toxic – and it can be lethal mainly in the form of suicide – but the people who let it go on unchecked are the people with the legal and moral authority to intervene.

And additional problem with the walk up meme is that it is attempting to silence student protestors at the exact moment in time when those of us in older generations should be quiet and listening to what they have to say.  The survivors of Parkland have impressed a great many people, but they are not exactly atypical of their generation and the general awareness of inequity and the need for change that they embrace.  For two generations now, the adults in the room have largely stood by and watched as the economy decoupled rising productivity from wages, and as earning potential for anyone without a college degree has collapsed:

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We’ve stood by as the concentration of wealth have made it possible for small groups of extremely wealthy people to wield power far disproportionate to their number, leading to inaction on issues as broad-ranging as climate change to gun policy.  We’ve stood by as two generations of African American and Hispanic men have faced mass incarceration and the economic, social, political, and racial costs that it inflicts.  We’ve stood by as police departments have been increasingly militarized in communities of color.  And yet, even as representatives fail to take action even on issues that have broad support, voting-aged Americans continue to send them back to Congress at rates as high as 90%.

The young people at the center of yesterday’s walk out event are well aware of these facts, but when they decided to take a day of collective action to tell the rest of the country that they are finding a common voice on an issue the adults have not figured out in decades, they are being told that they are doing it wrong.  This is as completely backwards as the media firestorm aimed at Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police brutality that somehow make even the most understated of protests the wrong thing to do.  We need to comprehend that we’ve made at least as much of a hash of domestic policy as the “Best and Brightest” managed to make of foreign policy in the generations before ours (and to be fair — foreign policy is not exactly in an upward spiral). Young people are telling us that they are paying attention to how we have failed to be stewards of a “more perfect union” for our Posterity, that they can command the attention of the media, that they can energize their peers in great numbers – and that they want change.

It is time for us to listen.

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The Apotheosis of Betsy DeVos

Betsy Devos has drawn few headlines in recent months, and that is a good thing for the Secretary of Education.  Her tenure began with Vice President Mike Pence having to break a 50-50 deadlock on her nomination vote, after her humiliating performance in confirmation hearings demonstrated how thorough her lack of relevant knowledge and experience truly was.  Secretary Designate DeVos could not clearly explain a position on proficiency versus growth, danced around a straightforward question about equal accountability for all schools taking public money, and, for added measure, postulated that there must be a school in Wyoming that keeps a shotgun around just in case of “potential grizzlies.”

Following a few uncomfortable visits to schools that drew protestors, Secretary DeVos has not captured many headlines except for people following various higher education issues.  For example, she rescinded Obama era guidance on sexual assault on college campus’.  Her department has also taken action against various civil rights initiatives from the Obama administration such as guidance on the rights of transgender students, and her department announced it was scaling back civil rights investigations and would avoid looking into systemic issues.  Secretary DeVos also rescinded 72 guidance documents for the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, claiming that every rescinded document was outdated or ineffective.  While some of the rescinded documents were indeed out of date, the process for deciding what was “ineffective” is not at all clear and leaves disability advocates nervous.  The DeVos Department of Education also removed Obama era protections for students at for profit colleges offering loan forgiveness when their schools shut down, and she plans for go further to make it far more difficult for defrauded students to get any kind of relief.

These are genuinely damaging policy shifts that fail to generate very many headlines, but they also represent an overall pattern for the Trump administration: hacking away at expansions of the federal governments role as protector of vulnerable populations is a lot easier than doing anything new.  Secretary DeVos has realized that recently in her apparent disappointment that states have not gone as far as she thinks they should in their accountability plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).   After doing very little to use what influence she has, Secretary DeVos publicly chided state school officials for meeting requirements in their ESSA plans and, in her view, largely eschewing much in the way of innovation.  State leaders dispute her assessment, but the argument hints at a larger issue:  with a leader who is wired to think that less government is always better in charge of a department that has to implement federal policy, it makes little sense to complain when states take you up on your offer of less interference.  Having never served in any capacity in any school system in the country, Secretary DeVos appears, once again, completely unable to grasp the nature of the system she supposedly administers.

That, however, was just the warm up.

Secretary DeVos sat for an interview with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes which aired on March 11th.  It was comprised mainly of cringe worthy moments.  In fairly short order, she was unable to draw any kind of distinction between the experience sexual assault and rape and the experience of being falsely accused of the same.  She hedged on the role of armed teachers in school with a meaningless anecdote about one of her own teachers.  She falsely claimed that federal expenditures in education have had no impact, and then drew a strange distinction between investing in children and investing in schools and school systems as if children are taught free range in most of the country.  When pressed on the impact of school choice in her home state of Michigan, she offered some pablum about how many students in Michigan are blessed with many school choices, but she could not respond to how Michigan educational outcomes have fallen during her period of greatest influence in the state.  Ms. Stahl pressed her on her school visits, and Secretary DeVos stunningly admitted she has never “intentionally” visited a struggling school.  When offered the suggestion that perhaps she should, she bobbed her head and smiled and said “Maybe I should.”  The entire interview was peppered with flashes of a tight lipped smile, regardless of her topic, that more suggested someone trying to ingratiate herself with her interlocutor than someone in command of an important and complex subject like public education.

Don’t take my word for it — the full transcript of the segment is available here.

Secretary DeVos compounded her problem the following morning with a Tweet that she claims included information that Lesley Stahl left out of her interview:

Trouble is that those graphs show EXACTLY what Ms. Stahl was getting at: Michigan used to score right around the national average in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), but since DeVos has been using her checkbook to support politicians who favor her views of school choice, the state has declined in the NAEP.  If there is a way to demonstrate that school choice produces better outcomes for all students, that certainly was not it.  DeVos also tried in her interview to claim that “studies show” positive results from school choice in Florida, but as Mark Webber points out, those studies show positive results – just really, really small ones in the tenths of a standard deviation.

It is, of course, tempting to point at the DeVos interview, laugh, and proclaim her a fitting sidekick to her boss whose just fired Secretary of State had a fairly salty opinion of his intelligence.  Peter Greene cogently warns that DeVos is not necessarily unintelligent, but rather that she is so thoroughly committed to a worldview where government sponsorship of any public accommodation is bad that she cannot acknowledge that the “individuals” who make up schools come together in a building owned and operated by the PUBLIC, staffed with individuals whose salaries are paid by the PUBLIC, and which are, mostly, governed by PUBLIC democratic institutions accountable to the PUBLIC.

In Betsy DeVos’ world, the commons is an inconvenient concept that stands in the way of seeing a world solely comprised of individual actors.  So she verbally erases it.

If DeVos had learned anything from her encounter with Lesley Stahl, she quickly put it out of her mind.  At her keynote address for the National PTA Legislative Conference, Secretary DeVos accused CBS of editing her poorly, and then doubled down on school choice, claiming that Michigan’s poor showing under policies enacted with her financial support is because “Michigan hasn’t embraced further reforms and hasn’t yet offered parents robust choice.”  To Devos, the failure of her favored reform agenda in a political playground where she has wielded unchallenged influence is simply that it has not gone far enough.

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This explains why the CBS interview was such quintessential Betsy DeVos, her apotheosis as it were.  She is clearly ill informed on schools and school systems, and it is equally clear that she does not care a lick to learn anything about them.  The DeVos vision of education is a combination of two forces: an extreme instantiation of individual aims for becoming educated and a complete hostility to the idea that anything in the public realm has much value.  Our public education system is not mandatory solely because we think that individual students will benefit from engaging in a K-12 school system solely to better their lot.  We have a public education system because we acknowledge the benefits of a society where everyone has at least a level of education that helps them contribute to society as a whole and because a minimal level of education is necessary to help all members of society actively and thoughtfully engage in our Democracy.  These are the contending purposes of public education that David Labaree discussed in his 1997 essay entitled “Public Goods, Private Goods,” arguing that American education had become too lopsided in favoring a view of schooling based upon individuals accumulating credentials for their own private benefit.  Betsy DeVos appears completely unable to speak to the public purposes of schooling largely because she simply does not see any legitimate public purpose to anything.  Public schools are only there for the individual students within them, and if the same individual benefits can be reaped without any public element whatsoever, she hardly is type to complain.

Advocates for change in American education – both in the school choice camp and in the progressive school camp – are correct to note that opportunity for individuals in schools is not equitable and to question how well many schools are doing to prepare students for their future and to participate in democracy.  Various forms of choices – alternative schools, magnet programs, etc — have existed within the public system for decades, and, with careful regulation and improved resources, there is probably room for more.  But none of that can work unless there is a genuine commitment at every level from the federal government to state governments to local governments and with all invested stakeholders that there are compelling public reasons for the enterprise of compulsory education.

The current Secretary of Education cannot articulate a single one.

 

 

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What, Exactly, Am I Preparing My Students For?

On February 14th, 19 year-old Nikolas Cruz entered his former high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, armed with an AR-15 rifle and proceeded to murder 17 students and staff before he fled the scene and was quickly apprehended.  The tragedy was the third mass shooting with more than a dozen fatalities in only 4 months and the seventh mass shooting in the same period.  The event also brought a swift round of accusations and counter accusations about responsibility and apparent inaction to repeated calls to law enforcement over Cruz’s behavior.  The fallout of that is still ongoing, and it will certainly sort itself out over time.

What was less expected was the swift and, for now, sustained call for action from the very victims of the mass shooting, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.  America is caught in a cynical cycle where a mass shooting tragedy is met with a chorus of political “leaders” offering their “thoughts and prayers” and declaring that now is “not the time” to discuss policy changes that might address America’s unique problem with gun violence in general and with mass shootings in particular.  It was widely, sadly, believed that after 20 first graders were murdered in Sandy Hook in 2012 with little more than a round of “thoughts and prayers,” a call from President Obama for action, and zero action by Congress for years that nothing will change.  That belief seemed validated as the years ticked by with over 400 additional people shot in more than 200 shootings in schools.

There is a chance that might change.

The reason for that hope is the unexpected but inspiring “Never Again” movement that the high school survivors of Parkland have put together at breakneck speed. These students, raised entirely after the Columbine massacre, well-educated, media and social media savvy, have captured a tremendous amount of attention and have openly expressed the frustration and exasperation with the nation’s complete standstill on gun policy purchased by millions of dollars in political donations by the NRA.  Consider this speech by Senior Emma Gonzalez:

This interview with her classmate, David Hogg:

Cameron Kasky, asking Senator Marco Rubio if he will reject NRA donations:

Or Delaney Tarr explaining to lawmakers that they will not go away:

For their efforts and their eloquence, the teenaged leaders of the past three weeks have been subject to bizarre conspiracy theories, patronizing mocking by conservative pundits, and death threats.  So far, they show no signs of being deterred nor of losing their platform.

It would be remiss to not mention how activists and supporters of Black Lives Matter expressed both admiration of and support for the Parkland survivors, and dismay at how powerful figures in the media, in entertainment, and in politics never afforded similar attention and support for their protests:

It is also important to note the passion and dignity that Black Lives Matter brought and continues to bring to their protests, despite constant misrepresentation, backlash and police response, as evidenced by the arrest of Ieshia Evans in Baton Rouge after the death of Alton Sterling:

This is important because both Black Lives Matter and Never Again ask at least one clear question in common:  Is it possible to go about a daily life without constant fear of violence and death?  Both movements deserve answers in the affirmative, but neither are likely to get those answers soon.

It appears, also, that America’s teachers have been forced into the same question alongside the student activists.  Educators have been present at every one of the 400 school shootings since Sandy Hook, and they have been victims.  Teachers in American schools are tasked with training students through mandatory “lock down” drills in the event that the increasingly thinkable visits their schools.  During actual school shootings, teachers are responsible for following school procedures that are hopefully designed to keep their charges safe.  In the days after the Parkland murders, teachers shared stories of their discussions with students about what would happen in the event of a shooting in their school, and they have been, frankly, heart breaking.  A teacher in Ohio, Marissa Schimmoeller, explained how her students promised to “carry her” to safety as she is confined to a wheelchair, and other teachers took to twitter to explain their gut wrenching conversations with students in the wake of the Florida attack, like this one about how a teacher would have to lock her students into a closet from the OUTSIDE:

Teachers were further forced to wonder what their lives and safety mean when the President of the United States insisted upon using his social media platform to claim that arming teachers would be a big step in “solving” the problem:

I have already written at length about how absolutely terrible an idea this is.  Mark Webber details further points about the impracticality and expense of such an idea.  Peter Greene points out the incredible juxtaposition of all of the explicit criticism of teachers that has been at the center of our national education debate for, well, forever, but then assuming teachers can carry guns in school and be first responders in an actual crisis.  Unfortunately, since the President of the United States decided to interject, repeatedly, this terrible idea into the national discourse, it has become a part of the debate on what teachers ought to do in the face of gun violence in schools.

It would be tempting at this point to take comfort in raw numbers.  The reality is that the vast majority of America’s 50 million school aged children and their 3 million teachers go to school 180 days a year and never have more than a preparedness drill.  American education is a vast enterprise spanning 98,000 public schools spread across 15,000 school districts.  Students spend a total of 54 BILLION hours in public schools in every year, and Americans’ odds of dying in a mass shooting in any location are about 4 times less than the odds of choking to death on food.  But that is not how terrorism really works.  The sheer randomness of mass gun violence in our society means that even if we are very unlikely to die from such violence, we can never really dismiss the possibility, and the unique position America occupies in the developed world as the undisputed capital of gun violence and mass shootings cannot be dismissed either.  Besides, the odds of dying in a tornado in Kansas are also very low for any individual.  It is still prudent to have a storm cellar and a plan to get to it in an emergency.

Does this mean I have to change my teacher education curriculum?

This isn’t an idle consideration.  Since I moved from the classroom to teacher education in 1997, one of the core principles that has guided my work has been preparing future teachers for work far beyond instruction.  Gary Fenstermacher, interpreting the work of John Goodlad, states that teachers have to learn how to be “good stewards” of their school, meaning that they take responsibility for the well-being of the entire enterprise within the school within the context of free public education in society.  Further, teachers must practice communication and be informants to the community, they must understand and promote the role of citizenship in a democracy, and they must model transformational learning, demonstrating to students that they themselves are always learning deeply and meaningfully.  This is complex vision of teachers’ work that takes a tremendous amount of dedication and knowledge to put into practice and which the best teachers refine over the course of their careers.

The work beyond instruction points to an ethical responsibility for teachers that is both humbling and daunting.  How can I practice stewardship of the school and its role in the community if I do not confront bullying and abuse regardless of its source?  How can I be an effective communicator to parents and the community if I condescend to them or embrace pernicious stereotypes?  What kind of citizenship will I promote if I do not challenge injustice and the complacency that lets it flourish?  Teacher education that does not present these questions to future teachers fails to provide even the barest preparation for what teaching really is.

Do we now have no choice but to fold “What will you do if someone aims a gun at your students?” to teacher preparation?

On the one hand, this does seems like a “storm cellar in Kansas” concept.  You can go your entire life without ever needing it, but if you do not have it if the time comes, you are far worse off.  On the other hand, merely acknowledging this as a responsibility of teachers – as if it were taking attendance – without at least trying to challenge the insanity is a massive failure of moral imagination.  Perhaps this is why Black Lives Matter activists make so many people uncomfortable and why the Never Again activists have captured an available platform.  As the young people who have grown up in a system that is insufficiently outraged by the outrageous, they are not simply accepting it and are demanding to know why those in power will not use their legal authority to make it better.

Perhaps it will be sufficient for teacher preparation to follow the lead of NYU’s Steinhardt program with a crisis preparedness seminar centered on case studies of situations that arise in school and which brings in guidance counselors, other professionals, and students themselves to consider what can arise in schools — including shootings.  But I think this is stunningly insufficient if we do not add our voices to those calling for real and comprehensive answers to our gun problem, and if we fail to highlight how many schools are insufficiently prepared to meet their most pressing needs — a rich curriculum, guidance and full care of students, nutrition programs, fully funded and staffed libraries, working facilities — then we are merely acquiescing to further neglect of our students and co-workers.  Responding to the tragedies that have spanned Columbine and Sandyhook and Marjory Stoneman Douglas requires not to simply run children through preparedness drills, but also requires that we add our voices to the young activists demanding why our political system can offer them nothing more than drills layered with thoughts and prayers.

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Filed under #blacklivesmatter, Activism, classrooms, Corruption, politics, racism, school violence, schools, Social Justice, teacher learning

A New Start in New Jersey?

New Jersey’s public schools welcomed a new governor last month, after a bruising 8 years of Chris Christie.  It is not necessary to recap all of the previous administration’s battles with the state teachers union and his numerous insults to individual teachers (although Rutgers graduate student and career educator Mark Weber has a handy summary here).  Governor Murphy promises to be a much more progressive figure in New Jersey politics, and he has pledged to move the state away from some legitimately damaging Christie-era policies.  During the campaign, Governor Murphy promised to withdraw New Jersey from the PARCC assessments and to implement shorter tests that give teachers and students actual feedback, to fully fund the state’s education aid formula, and to walk back from state takeovers and other top down policies.  Early indications suggest that he is in earnest about these promises and that New Jersey is moving in a different educational direction.

This is a good start, but New Jersey’s school problems are deeper than funding, inappropriate tests, and the overall demeanor of its governor.  This is not unique to New Jersey.  States across the country reeled from the effects of the Great Recession, and a wave of disruptive policy initiatives impacted schools systems in every state of the Union.  Governor Murphy faces a New Jersey where state aid remains underfunded, where the impacts on classrooms of standards reform and the PARCC examinations are still significant, and where recruitment of new teachers has suffered along with teacher morale.  While funding and curriculum/testing reform are significant endeavors that need the new governor’s attention, he must also look towards an impending problem for all of New Jersey’s school: the teaching profession is far less attractive today than it was a decade ago, and without a strong plan to reverse that, funding and curriculum changes will falter.

A recent bill advocated by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker would help, somewhat.  Financial incentives to become a teacher and to stay in the profession are welcome and overdue, but it is only a portion of the problem.  Economic incentives alone will not make teaching as a profession more attractive because the roots of our current problems are not tied solely to economics.  This is also not a new phenomenon.  The prevalence of “psychic rewards” in teaching was noted by Dan Lortie in his landmark study “Schoolteacher” and their nature are both subjective and highly individualistic, largely because of the highly uncertain aspects of teaching itself.  In short, very few seek to become teachers because of the fame and money, and since the most prized rewards of teaching are vulnerable to the “ebb and flow” of classrooms and schools, it is easy to see how teacher morale can plummet.  Pull too hard on what makes the work worth doing and fewer people will want to do it.

So what has happened in New Jersey that has impacted our ability to recruit and retain teachers?

First, New Jersey has restricted who can even consider becoming a teacher.  Through multiple changes to the state code, New Jersey has raised the GPA entrance and exit requirements for potential teachers, raised the entrance exam requirements for teacher education so that only the top third of test takers can become education majors without passing additional examinations, has added the Pearson administered edTPA performance assessment on top of the PRAXIS II examination as an exit requirement, and has expanded student teaching into a full year experience.  All of these initiatives have one obvious impact: many fewer graduates of New Jersey’s high schools can even consider teaching as a profession.  This may have a certain intuitive logic and hearkens back the Reagan administration’s “A Nation at Risk” which lamented how many of America’s teachers were among the poorest students in college.  Two problems are associated with this perspective, however.  While there is certainly evidence that teacher knowledge matters, there is scant evidence that the knowledge reflected in high standardized test scores is closely correlated with becoming a good teacher.  Indeed, struggling in an endeavor can lend a great deal of insight for a potential teacher, and in two decades in higher education, I have seen many students who clearly had requisite knowledge and who brought valuable experience to teaching struggle on a standardized test that said very little about them.  Second, the very students that New Jersey has declared are the only ones eligible to seek teaching as a profession are also students with a great many options in front of them. Even if they are not drawn to teaching for wealth, they surely want their classrooms to be places that are satisfying to them as professionals.

So what do New Jersey teachers currently find in their classrooms?  For teachers in tests subjects, up to a third of their evaluation rests on Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs), a form of valued added calculation that attempts to compare teachers’ impact on tested subjects with their students.  While SGPs are simpler than other growth measures, that does not mean they are less controversial, and studies in New Jersey highlight how closely correlated SGPs are to demographic and resource characteristics as opposed to individual teacher inputs.  While Governor Murphy promises to withdraw New Jersey from the PARCC assessments, any replacement assessment would still be figured into the current teacher evaluation system.

All teachers, including ones in tested subjects, also complete the Student Growth Objective (SGO) annually.  When I first heard about the concept — teachers selecting an annual project for improving their teacher and working closely with administrators — it certainly seemed full of potential.  Reality, unfortunately, has been rather different.  The SGO manual describes a process that is cumbersome and limited to “growth” projects that produce measurable results which effectively means using tests of some sort of another.  The busy work aspect of SGOs as practiced is clear on page 19 of the current manual:SGO

A keen observer might wonder upon what basis “adding or subtracting 10%” is remotely a valid method of determining what range of student performance indicates different levels of competency, and that same observer would be right to suspect that these instructions are far more about producing tables that are quick and easy to read in an office in Trenton than they are about helping teachers and supervisors genuinely reflect upon and improve practice.  A process like this, tied to evaluation, invites the worst of bureaucratic responses that go through the motions without really engaging in genuinely student or teacher learning.  I would challenge Governor Murphy to visit teachers and try to find out how many simply give students a test on material that hasn’t been taught early in the school year so that the final SGO evaluation can demonstrate “growth.”  Don’t blame teachers, though – blame a process that lends itself to compliance without substance.

The current situation is one that Governor Murphy has inherited, and it goes far beyond disruptive standardized tests and the disposition of the occupant of Drumthwacket. New Jersey currently sits with a tightly constricted teacher pipeline on one end of teacher preparation, and a profession that is saddled with an evaluation system based upon measures ranging from statistically dubious to bureaucratically mind numbing.  Imagine the irony of recruiting high caliber students into demanding preparation and sending them into an evaluation system that fails to treat them as professionals and you can grasp the difficulty of convincing young people to pursue teaching.

Fortunately, there are fixes to the current problems in New Jersey, some relatively easy and others more complex.  Governor Murphy should consider adding flexibility to who can enroll as education majors in the state.  If keeping the pool of potential teachers academically talented is important, it should, nevertheless, be possible for students who are not among the strongest test takers to demonstrate their competency through GPA targets in non-introductory semesters, an allowance that would give students incentives to stay on track and allow for students making a difficult transition to college expectations to find their academic footing.  The Governor can also reconsider the state’s commitment to the edTPA performance assessment which is both expensive and needlessly complicated.  For several years I have told my students that edTPA is “not the worst thing in world,” but since the worst things in the world also include smallpox and diphtheria, that is not an exceptionally high bar to pass.  The basic components of edTPA are already well known in teacher education – assess student needs, design instruction to meet those needs, teach, and then assess the impact of that teaching — in the form of Teacher Work Sample and other performance assessments.  The difference with edTPA is that it is externally evaluated by the Pearson Corporation and it uses a language for analyzing teaching that matches nothing teacher education or professional development has ever widely used before, creating barriers for communication with cooperating teachers and school administrators.  Finally, since it is scored securely by a third party, the edTPA is a massive project for prospective teachers during their student teaching that nobody who knows their work and their teaching context can provide significant, formative feedback.

New Jersey should convene a meeting with the leaders of Schools of Education and set parameters for locally derived performance assessments based upon the earned expertise of the education researchers, the experienced classroom teachers, and the supervising administrators involved in student teaching experiences in New Jersey.  We are more than capable of doing so, and many of us were doing so for many years before the state told us we cannot be trusted with the task.

The Garden State can also take steps to trust teacher expertise and professionalism in the classroom by moving strongly away from the SGP and SGO components of assessment that both drive up the importance of standardized testing and take enormous amounts of time in an exercise with little value.  Partisans for the education reform environment from 2010 forward will argue that the standardized test based  assessment system is indispensable because it dispenses with the “lies” about what students are actually learning.  Considering how narrowly standardized tests actually define learning, this argument betrays an awful lack of imagination.  It is not necessary to abandon standards and rigor while simultaneously engaging teachers and administrators in real processes that use locally produced assessments and support the growth of structures that actually support teacher growth.  Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University provides a detailed outline for such systems in this 2012 report, a substantial jumping off point for policy makers who are interested in evaluation premised on growth and support, an entirely new direction in New Jersey at this point.

If Governor Murphy fulfills his promises on education, he will have a decent start.  However, the problems facing New Jersey schools run deeper and right into the systems that have been set up over the past decade.  The Garden State is narrowing the pool of available teachers in ways that are unnecessary, and it is subjecting those teachers to professional assessments that are both unfair and wasteful once they enter the classroom.  A new set of professional structures, developed in full partnership with community education stakeholders and premised on support and growth, would be a far greater incentive for young people to commit to a career in the classroom and to keep them there once they have begun teaching.  More flexibility for young people entering and exiting teacher preparation would not negatively impact teacher quality while keeping the door open for more promising candidates who are drawn to this profession because of their personal desires to do good in the world.  It will take a while to figure this out, but it will be worth it.

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Filed under Chris Christie, classrooms, Common Core, Cory Booker, Data, Funding, PARCC, Pearson, Phil Murphy, politics, standards, Testing, VAMs

The Republican Tax Bill is Anti-Public Education

A great deal of ink has been spilled on how the Republican tax bill working through Congress would impact higher education for the worse.  The highest profile item is the plan in the House bill to tax graduate student tuition waivers as income, effectively making the young people who are helping the nation move forward with critical research pay taxes on “incomes” that are tens of thousands of dollars higher than they actually get paid.  However, higher education takes multiple hits in the House bill such as taxing endowment earnings that go towards school advancement, reducing incentives for charitable giving, and eliminating student loan interest deductions that benefited 12 million borrowers in 2014.  For a bill that the G.O.P. is trying to market as a “boon” to the middle class, the House bill does not just tax graduate student tuition waivers, but also it takes aim at tuition benefits for higher education employees and their childrenThe New York Times portrayed a 64 year old night custodian at Boston College who managed to send all five of his children to college using such a benefit and who would never have been able to do so under the House bill.  Assurances from House leaders that their bill would grant most Americans so much tax relief that they would not need those benefits ring hollow as analyses show that various provisions in the bills could result in $1.6 trillion dollars of tax INCREASES on middle class earners over the next decade.

So while the House and Senate bills are not friendly to higher education (the Senate bill somewhat less so), there has been little talk about the potential impact on K-12 education if the Senate bill passes, is reconciled with the House bill, and sent to the Oval Office for splashy signing ceremony.  There are several provisions in both pieces of legislation that would take serious aim at K-12 education at the state and local funding levels.  Reporters and editorials have stressed that eliminating the deductions for state and local taxes (SALT) including property taxes, as in the Senate bill, will heavily impact Democratic leaning states with higher tax burdens, but the Governmental Finance Officers Association (GFOA) reports that eliminating SALT deductions from the tax code will have a broadly negative impact on tax payers in all states.  According to the GFOA findings:

  • 30% of tax units use the SALT deduction.
  • 60% of deductions for earners under $50,000 a year come from property taxes and the loss of the deduction would negatively impact home ownership and price stability.
  • 30% of earners between $50,000 and $75,000 a year use the SALT deduction. 53% of earners between $75,000 and $100,000 a year use it.
  • Income earners at all levels would see their taxes go up if the SALT deduction is eliminated.

More importantly from a public school perspective: the loss of the SALT deduction would apply significant pressure on states and municipalities to reduce taxes in order to offset the increases in federal taxes paid by their constituents.  Using the 8th Congressional District in Texas north of Houston as a model, the GFOA estimates that the district would see an increase in federal taxes of $306 million dollars.  Offsetting that with state and local tax decreases could impact $125 million in school funding.  Simply put: education funding is an enormous local and state expenditure, and it would have to be cut in order to provide any relief to tax payers who lost SALT.

There is something incredibly perverse about putting pressure on states and municipalities to cut taxes in order to make up for a federal tax bill that overwhelmingly favors the rich and corporations. It is even more perverse to label that as “middle class tax relief” when the outcome will be potentially disastrous for local schools.  The vast majority of K-12 school funding in this country still comes from state and local revenues which would no longer be deductible from federal tax burdens.

It is true that upper income communities benefit significantly from SALT, but it is also true that states with even vaguely progressive school funding systems depend upon those communities being able to foot their own school bills so that state aid can get to needier communities.  It was that principle that made New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s proposal to “flatten” state aid so that all schools got exactly the same amount of aid per pupil so outrageous and – eventually – a non-starter with legislators.  The elimination of the SALT deduction would create enormous pressure for additional tax relief from wealthier communities and shrink the revenue available for their own schools via property taxes and for less wealthy communities via state aid packages.

The pain for school budgets would not end with the loss of SALT.  The Congressional Budget Office recently scored the tax plan and estimates that it will expand on budget deficits by $1.4 trillion dollars over the next decade.  In the short term, current “pay as you go” requirements might cause immediate cuts to Medicare, but as deficits pile up over the next decade, Congress would have to slash as much as $150 billion a year.  Federal education spending could look very appealing to future Congresses trying to offset lost revenue unless the trickle down theory suddenly works for the first time everAnalysts have already identified $2 billion in student loan administration that might go as well as $62 billion in “all other programs.”  While the federal contribution to the $634 billion spent in the U.S. on public K-12 schools is only about 8%, that will be a tempting target for future deficit hawks and legislators boxed in by spending rules.

Federal spending K-12, while limited, has a long reach:  $14.9 billion in local Title I grants, $11.9 billion in special education grants, $9.1 billion in Head Start for pre-K children.  Most of this money is targeted to help states meet the needs of the most vulnerable children in the country – whose communities cannot raise enough revenue through property values.  Under this tax bill, states could easily be strangled on both sides of their education budgets with calls to lower state tax rates in response to the loss of SALT deductions and with fewer federal dollars coming in to help the needy.

The tax bill could further hurt education spending by reducing property values, restricting local and state revenue even further.  In addition to eliminating (or capping) SALT, the bill reduces the mortgage interest deduction from $1 million to $500,000.  Although this more heavily impacts very expensive housing markets, combined with the loss of the SALT deduction, the tax bill would make home ownership significantly more expensive in numerous housing markets, creating a disincentive for buyers across a large range of prices, and potentially depressing housing prices.  Although experts differ about the full impact of these factors on the market, the National Association of Realtors warns that home prices could fall as much as 10%.  That translates into more lost local revenue in an environment where state school funding still has not recovered fully from the impacts of the Great Recession – when we learned that municipalities were not well positioned to make up for lost state funds.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ analysis found that since the end of the recession, local revenue growth has only averaged 1.5% above inflation, not remotely enough to make up for lost state funds and increasing student populations.  If local revenues take another hit through the new tax bill, even that incredibly modest growth is at risk.

The Republican tax bill is a looming threat to K-12 education spending on numerous fronts:

  • Blowing a hole in the Federal budget will force Congress to look for savings in future budgets’ discretionary spending, putting money sent to help our neediest students at risk.
  • Capping or eliminating the SALT deduction will put intense pressure on state and local governments to cut their own taxes in the face of constituents with higher federal tax bills.
  • If those taxes are cut, municipalities won’t be able to generate more money for school budgets, and states won’t be able to generate more money for state aid funding – even as federal sources shrink.
  • Disincentives for home ownership in the form of increased costs will put downward pressure on home prices which will further impact local school budgets.

Put together, the threat to public education is evident.  This bill threatens federal aid for needy students by exploding the budget deficit, puts pressure on municipalities via decreased home values and loss of property tax deductions, and puts pressure on states via loss of income tax deductions.  School budgets HAVE to rise just to keep up with growing student populations and other fixed costs even if there is no concerted effort at school improvement.  Flat or decreased funding for any significant length of time threatens numerous factors that impact school quality such as class sizes, the length of the school year, and capital improvements.  We saw this play out across the country during the Great Recession and, more recently, with Kansas which plunged deep into a supply side experiment under Governor Brownback – and which precipitated a long term public education crisis.

If the Republicans in Congress pass this tax bill, there’s a good chance that we will all be Kansans next year.

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Filed under Drumpf, Funding, politics, schools

Deep in the Heart of Whiteness

In 1993, I took my Bachelors Degree, my Masters Degree, and my teaching coursework, stepped on to an airplane and left for Honolulu, Hawai’i to begin a one year teaching internship.  I was confident that I knew the subject I was going to teach, English, and I was confident that my teaching coursework had taught me what I needed to adapt that content into a curriculum suited for learners anywhere.  I was also possessed of a young, white, suburban liberal’s confidence that I valued diversity and in the ability of that disposition to make up for the lack of either theoretical or practical knowledge that I had about the community I was moving to.

As it turned out, I did know a great deal about English.

My other assumptions were woefully inadequate, and I soon realized that if I was going to be anything more than a tourist who also collected a paycheck, I had an enormous amount to learn about the political, economic, racial, and linguistic history of my new home. Hawai’i’s history since contact with Europe and America includes colonization, disease, displacement of native peoples, a plantation labor economy, and concentration of land and wealth into American-born hands. Eventually,  a cabal of American-backed businessmen, not content with what they had already accumulated at the expense of Native Hawaiians and imported plantation labor, overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 with assistance from the U.S. military and worked towards annexation by the United States, succeeding in 1898.  In 1896, the government set up by the coup leaders officially banned the use of Hawaiian language in all schools, both public and private, a law which would remain on the books until the 1980s and which nearly succeeded in wiping out the Hawaiian language outside of tourist kitsch.  I knew none of this when I stepped foot on O’ahu.

Teaching English is always a political act, but the starkness of that become far more clear as I accumulated experience in Honolulu and got to know my students better.  A few years later, I was handed a textbook that was supposed to be on the subject of “American Literature” for a class of eleventh graders.  The text was nearly 600 pages long, and it contained perhaps 30 pages written by African Americans, no more than that by Americans of Hispanic heritage, literally nothing by Asian Americans, and a 3 page speech attributed to Chief Seattle for which there is no definitive text and a lot of mythology that served other people’s interests.  Thumbing through the book and thinking about my students – who largely traced their ancestry to continental Asia, the Philippines, Hawai’i, and other Pacific nations – was enormously depressing.  Here was a text of “American” literature that would have been inadequate in countless American communities and which effectively erased the majority of my students from the nation’s literary tradition.  Luckily, the Bishop Museum Press had just published Mary Kawena Pukui’s bilingual collection of Hawaiian folktales, and breaking my department’s copying budget, I set about using it as the basis for a semester long project on family folk stories incorporating oral, written, and visual presentations.

This doesn’t mean that I did not fail frequently, especially in my first year teaching.  I did.  I recall with shame showing visible impatience with a student in my first year who tried to explain that his family was Buddhist, and he simply did not know a lot of the religious references in the Hawthorne story we had read.  I had difficulty sustaining students’ conversations about our reading until I recognized that the classroom speaking pattern I was used to at home and in school was culturally specific and until I tried to embrace the richness of students’ language in all of the forms that entered my classroom as classroom talk.   It took me too many years to really question the ethnocentrism of the English curriculum, far too often taking the easier path of sticking with the literature that spoke to me.

As I grew to appreciate the complexities of this community, I grew to love it as well.  Hawai’i had far more to teach me that I had to teach it, and while it was not always comfortable, it was surely valuable.  And that growing value was why, in my second year teaching, I was absolutely flummoxed by an admission a fellow “mainland transplant” made to me.  It was at a party at a friend’s home.  This friend was also white but had lived in Hawai’i all of her life, and one of her guests was a young woman who had moved to O’ahu with her husband for his job a few years earlier from the east coast.  We spoke briefly before she, perhaps assessing me as similarly-situated and sympathetic, made an admission:

“You know, living here really makes me understand what black people must have felt like in Alabama in the 1950s.”

I don’t recall my exact reaction, but I must not have registered anything obvious as she continued for some minutes about how much she disliked Hawai’i in general and Honolulu in particular.  I do not recall getting into an argument with her, and I do not recall any further discussions.  I do remember being bothered by her hostility and absolutely floored by her comparison to herself, as a white person in Honolulu, to a black person in the Jim Crow era.  Numerous explanations seemed possible:

  • Perhaps she had a staggeringly shallow understanding of the history of White Supremacy, the kind of terrorism inflicted upon people of color in the Jim Crow South, and just how much of that persisted past the legal victories of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Perhaps she was plainly unused to being in the racial minority.  Hawai’i, as is often overlooked by the national press, was a “majority minority” state the moment it was admitted into the Union.  To be suddenly thrust in a position where her status no longer appeared guaranteed may have been supremely uncomfortable.
  • Perhaps she had experienced genuine racial animosity and had considered it the equivalent of systemic racism.  Hawai’i’s history has born complex and often painful racial relationships, and I knew more than one white person who bristled at being called “haole” especially in the sense that the words denotes a judgement of one’s character.

Of course, it is entirely possible she simply didn’t like Hawai’i.  I have lived in places I found less than wonderful in my life.  But her comparison of herself to a person of color in the Jim Crow South screamed at a deeper level of resentment, uneasiness, and angst in need of explanation.  Even today, over two decades later, I have trouble understanding it.  At the time I seriously could not grasp it all because except for reasonably average homesickness and an inability in my first year of detecting the change of the seasons, I really could not understand what she was trying to explain and did not feel that sense of racial discomfort and anxiety she expressed.

This doesn’t denote anything particularly special about my enlightenment regarding race in my mid-twenties.  I suffered not a single professional consequence as a white male with an Ivy League degree while teaching.  It is possible that some of my chosen social activities, like the Sierra Club, were over-populated with people like myself, so I effectively “shielded” myself from situations where racial tension was more evident.  I grew up in a majority Jewish town, but spent college in an environment with a very small Jewish population, so I had already experienced moving to a place with a different culture.  Perhaps the nature of my job meant more contact with young people who had grown up in Hawai’i, giving me the opportunity to know and appreciate them.

Whatever the reason, I genuinely cannot recall a single incident in Hawai’i where I personally felt my identity as a white person disadvantaged me.  It is entirely possible, although I’d be hard pressed to recall, that an individual here or there was personally hostile, but nothing left any lasting impression and certainly nothing was consequential.  Ultimately, I can only understand the young woman’s response as a viscerally negative response to being suddenly thrust into a visible minority status, where the majority of people looked very different than herself and possessed cultural histories and practices with which she was unfamiliar.  Being taken from a position of comfort and presumed normalcy to a space where your standard assumptions might no longer work is not an experience many people in America’s racial majority are prepared for by any of their upbringing.  I assume (and it is an assumption) that the woman who clearly thought I would understand her assessment of her situation was struggling with that to such a degree that she was erupting with her own resentment.

I’ve been thinking about this encounter off and on since the election in 2008 and almost nonstop since 2016.

The election of Barack Obama to the Presidency sent a shock wave through many white Americans that manifested in opposition to him far beyond what can be explained by mere partisan politics.  As late as Fall 2015, 29% of Americans still believed that the first black President was secretly a Muslim, furthering an ongoing campaign to “other” Mr. Obama and to refuse to accept his legitimacy as President of the United States.  This has been an outgrowth of a general sense of shock among much of the nation’s white population that their assumed normalcy and social/political status was under threat due to Mr. Obama’s Presidency and demographic projections of a dwindling white population in coming decades.  Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Samuel Sommers of Tufts University noted this in a 2011 study where whites expressed that racism is a “zero sum game” and that they see themselves “losing” in America today.  In that study, both black and white Americans believed that racial animosity towards blacks had fallen from the 1950s to the 2000s, but whites startlingly saw racial animosity against themselves as having simultaneously risen to the point where there was more discrimination against them than against blacks.  The authors concluded that their white respondents were seeing that progress for black Americans had occurred and that it had done so at their expense.

This phenomenon exploded into support among Republican primary voters for Donald Trump who initiated his campaign on racism, nativism, and isolationist populism.  Pew Research found that warmth towards Donald Trump in the primary campaign was closely associated with seeing immigration and a shrinking white demographic as negatives.  A minority of Republican voters (39%) believed that the fact that America will become “majority minority” was negative, but an overwhelming 63% of these constituents had a favorable view of Donald Trump.  Economic anxiety may have gotten a lot of media attention in the last election cycle, but when a lot of white people went into the voting booth, racial animosity and fear of living in a diverse future motivated their votes.

The only way to explain this fear and animosity is with the inability to see a future for themselves in an increasingly diverse national community which is inexorably coming.  In 1980 (the first year the census recorded a “Spanish Origin” population), whites numbered roughly 189 million in a national population of over 226.5 million,  roughly 83% of the population counted in the Census.  In 2014, non-Hispanic White Americans were 62.2% of the population, projected to be only 43.6% of the population in 2060.

In other words:  in coming decades, more and more white Americans will find themselves more and more a demonstrably minority population, and much like the young woman I met in Hawai’i in the mid-1990s, they are uncomfortable with that and often down right fearful.  Much like their predecessors in the 1800s and early 1900s who saw waves of Irish Catholic immigration, Southern European immigration, Eastern European and Jewish immigration, and Asian immigration as inherent threats to a cultural and political order dominated by Anglo-Saxon Protestants, white Americans fearful for their place in the social, cultural, and political order are lashing out.  The march by avowed White Supremacists in Charlottesville this summer that sparked a national furor was merely the most ugly manifestation of this — and not even the most problematic.  It takes little courage to denounce people marching in Nazi regalia.  It takes a bit more to ask friends and neighbors to think about what really motivated their vote last year.

And yet not asking that is not a viable option.  A shocking percentage of white Americans believe that they are discriminated against racially and that their dwindling demographic majority is an actual threat rather than a natural outcome of a changing society.  This is a process that will continue for decades, and white Americans need a very different framing of the ongoing changes if they are going to adapt to it without the upheaval we have seen recently, and the echoes it has of past, violent, responses to immigration and civil rights movements.

Nell Irvin Painter, professor emerita of history at Princeton University and author of A History of Whiteness, suggests just how difficult this might be.  As a construct, “whiteness” has a long and complex history beyond simply noting a cluster of a few, vaguely-shared physical attributes, and Dr. Irvin Painter documents how the concept has changed over time:

In the mid-to late-19th century, the existence of several white races was widely assumed: notably, the superior Saxons and the inferior Celts.  Each race – and they were called races – had its characteristic racial temperament.  “Temperament” has been and still is a crucial facet of racial classification since its 18th-century Linnaean origins.  Color has always been only one part of it (as the case of Ms. Dolezal shows).

In the 19th century, the Saxon race was said to be intelligent, energetic, sober, Protestant and beautiful.  Celts, in contrast, were said to be stupid, impulsive, drunken, Catholic and ugly.

Dr. Irvin Painter also documents that by the 1940s, anthropologists, dominated by white men as academia was, determined that white, Asian, and black were the only “true” races and that each existed as unitary without any racial subgroups.  This new classification system had the side effect of removing white people from any burden of racial identity in America:

The useful part of white identity’s vagueness is that whites don’t have to shoulder the burden of race in America, which, at the least, is utterly exhausting.  A neutral racial identity is blandly uninteresting.  In the 1970s, long after they had been accepted as “white,” Italians, Greeks, Jews and others proclaimed themselves “ethnic” Americans in order to forge a positive identity, at a time of “black is beautiful.” But this ethnic self-discovery did not alter the fact that whiteness continued to be defined, as before, primarily by what it isn’t: blackness.

This leaves white Americans in modern America with a disturbing binary in their identity.  Toggling between “bland nothingness” on the one hand and “racist hatred” on the other, white Americans have little that is compelling to hold on to, but this has at least one positive effect.  Like the young woman who asked me to affirm the injustice of her situation, “nothingness” meant that she was entirely “normal,” that her sense of how the world worked and how culture functioned was unproblematic, and she could navigate life without her identity causing any special discomfort. This is perhaps the “heart of whiteness,” the ability to live and interact with others wrapped in the privilege of assumed normalcy.  Finding herself in Hawai’i flipped that construct in a way she could not process without lashing out, and the rest of the white community in America is entering a future where the assumption of normalcy is methodically being deconstructed by the sheer weight of demographics.

The past decade says that deconstruction will be turbulent under current understandings of whiteness and identity, risking severe backlash from wide segments of the white population.  Dr. Irvin Painter argues that breaking down the binary toggle of whiteness is essential and that the abolition of white privilege and social justice could be incorporated as a component of identity.   It is a worthwhile vision.  The alternative is decades of fear, resentment, and efforts to retrench white privilege across our political and cultural system.

 

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Filed under Activism, Drumpf, politics, racism, Social Justice

SUNY to Teaching Profession: Meh.

It comes as no surprise that in New York the SUNY Charter School committee voted to approve its controversial regulations that will allow SUNY authorized charter schools to certify their own teachers.  Faced with criticism that ranged from teacher educators to the state teachers’ union to the Commissioner of Education to the state Board of Regents, SUNY altered the rules slightly, increasing course hours but cutting time spent in classrooms.  According to the Times reporting, even Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a self-appointed watchdog on teacher education that  rates teacher preparation programs without ever bothering to visit them,  spoke dubiously on the regulations as passed:

“It’s, ‘Here, we’ll make our candidates go out and take, what is this, a three-credit course that everybody will roll their eyes and say, “This isn’t very helpful,” but higher ed will get the dollars, so you get higher ed off your back,’” Ms. Walsh said. At the same time, she said, “I don’t understand how you justify reducing the practice time to 40 hours, which is not even two weeks of school.”

Teacher certificates earned at a SUNY authorized charter school will still only be good for teaching at another SUNY authorized charter school, so it is an open question about whether or not this will be a large pipeline for charter schools who are still held to state requirements that a large percentage of their teachers hold valid teaching credentials and are seeking to bypass that by doing it in house.  What is clear is that charter chains like Success Academy, which boast very high scores on state tests and very little tolerance for even mildly divergent behavior, are pleased since they will no longer have to bother with new teachers who have actually learned to teach and have existing teaching experience and knowledge of pedagogy.  The immediate upshot of the SUNY vote is that such schools no longer have to bother pretending that teaching is more than performance of a script informed by an enthusiastic reading of Teach Like a Champion.

I wrote about these proposed regulations, as did many education bloggers, when they were released for public comment.  Unsurprisingly, I found them appalling.  In order to circumvent their difficulty in recruiting and retaining qualified teachers, the charter school sector proposed that their schools, which disproportionately operate in urban environments with largely minority student populations, be allowed to provide the barest minimal training, justifying it because they get high test scores, and call it “teacher certification.”  Compared to the actual programs of teacher preparation – including extensive coursework and work in classrooms as well as a rigorous external performance evaluation – the now passed regulations amount to the slimmest preparation, 16 credit hours of instruction and less than a week worth of time in an actual classroom.  Presumably, it is okay for black and brown children to be taught by teachers far less prepared than their peers in richer and less diverse schools.  Add in the incredibly incestuous relationship between charter schools, their donors, the Governor of New York, and the appointees on the SUNY Board, and the ethical quagmire here is obvious…even by Albany standards.

Dr. Bruce Baker of Rutgers University reminded his social media followers that some charters actually have a financial interest in this arrangement:

The “Company Store” metaphor harkens back to pre-labor union days when workers could be paid in company scrip that was only good for use in the store run by the company itself.  In the charter school case, many of the schools that will operate SUNY approve “certification” programs will gain back teachers’ salaries in models already proven by Relay “Graduate School” of Education:

Former teachers from the affiliated charter schools report being obligated as a condition of employment to obtain credentials (MA degrees and related certifications) from Relay GSE. That is: employees at the charter schools are having a portion of their salary taxed to pay tuition to a “graduate school” run by founders of their own charter schools, operated within their own charter school facility (lease agreement unknown), where courses are often taught by their own teaching peers having only slightly more advanced education and experience.[xi] We elaborate on this example in Appendix A.

Another way for affiliated charter schools to channel money to Relay is to set aside a portion of their budget to subsidize graduate education—but only at Relay GSE. That is, some EMOs (including Uncommon) have a practice of paying for graduate degrees obtained from Relay, but not from any other institution (unless the teacher can prove that Relay does not offer a degree in the same field). Teachers agreeing to pursue their degrees from Relay with school support must complete those degrees or, as noted earlier, are required to reimburse their EMO for any/all tuition reimbursement they received.

While this model is not as well tested in New York State, the SUNY Charter School Committee just opened the entire system of SUNY authorized charter schools to give it a try.

Education blogger and Rutgers graduate student Jersey Jazzman, however, pointed out a very important potential consequence of the scheme that may not turn out so well for charters who decide to bypass traditionally prepared teachers.  New Yorkl charter schools with high turnovers of teachers get to “free ride” on the salary scales at district schools because their teachers, mostly in possession of traditional teaching credentials know they can move on to positions where their salary scales and benefits are guaranteed by union contracts:

But teachers who start their careers in charters will only stay a few years because they know they can move on to better paying and less stressful careers in public district schools. In this way, the charters “free ride”, as Martin Carnoy puts it, on the public school districts, who by paying experienced teachers more create incentives for charter teachers to enter the profession. The charters never have to pony up for these incentives, making them free riders.

But the SUNY credentials are only good at other SUNY authorized charter schools, meaning a new teacher who get “certified” this way has no option to teach anywhere else.  So either the SUNY schools will have to find a continuous stream of new teachers who do not mind that their experience is not applicable teaching anywhere else and who will begin and end their careers in charter schools, OR they will have to cough up benefits and salary and working conditions that will keep their teachers.  There is not an inexhaustible supply of young college grads looking to teach with no prospects of a career in the work — otherwise Teach For America would not find itself struggling to fill its corps in recent years.

The SUNY Charter School Committee has clearly seen all of this and offered a big “meh” as the height of their concern.  But if quality education is the actual goal of charter education, they will not get there by ignoring the evidence that experienced teachers are more skilled than inexperienced ones and by replacing adequate funding with choice and calling it a day, especially in a state that is still billions of dollars a year below it’s target for education funding from a decade ago.

 

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Filed under Betty Rosa, charter schools, Corruption, Eva Moskowitz, Funding, MaryEllen Elia, NCTQ, New York Board of Regents, politics, School Choice, schools, teacher professsionalism

Who’s Afraid of Professional Teachers?

New York’s charter school sector, apparently.

Politico reports that the charter sector has potentially won a much desired prize: permission to “certify” their own teachers.  The SUNY Charter Institute, which grants charters and oversees some of the state’s most influential charter networks, released proposed regulations that would make it far easier for charter schools to meet requirements that they have certified teachers on their faculty by allowing them to bypass traditionally prepared teachers and create their own programs leading to certification.  Under the proposed regulations, individuals with a bachelor’s degree will be able to be certified with only 30 hours of coursework:

30 hours

And 100 hours of classroom practice under the supervision of an “experienced teacher”:

100 hours

100hoursb

It is important to lay this out clearly.  The New York charter sector has long worried that requirements that they have a minimum number of certified teachers on staff were becoming difficult to meet.  So now, in a flurry of deal making to get mayoral control extended, they are potentially going to be able to bypass the requirement altogether.  SUNY will allow charter schools to hire teachers without certification and then to “certify” them with coursework amounting to only 30 hours of instruction.  For comparison’s sake, a SINGLE 3 credit college course traditionally includes 30 hours of instruction.  On top of that, candidates for “certification” will need 100 hours of field experience under the supervision of an “experienced” teacher.  The proposed regulation defines “experienced” as a certified teacher.  It also defines “experienced” as a teacher who has completed a charter school program approved by the SUNY Institute, an UNCERTIFIED teacher with three year of “satisfactory” experience, or a teacher who completes Teach For America or a similar program.  This is what will  pass for teacher certification in New York’s “high performing” charter schools: 1 college course and 100 classroom hours under the supervision of an “experienced” teacher who might be no more than a just finished Teach For America corps member.  Better still, “instructors” in the program might hold a master’s degree in education or a “related field,” might be certified teacher with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited program and at least 3 years experience, but might just be an uncertified teacher with 3 years experience and a “track record of success based on student outcomes (read: annual test scores),” or might be a school administrator – who in many charter schools are under 30.  Candidates in the charter programs will also take required workshops on mandatory reporting of child abuse, on violence prevention, and on harassment, bullying, and discrimination.

sheldon-throwspapers

As a matter of comparison, it is worth looking at the New York State Education Department’s certification requirements for new teachers.  In order to get an initial certificate through a traditional teacher preparation program as an elementary school teacher for grades 1-6, a prospective teacher at any of the institutions on this list must complete an NYSED registered program that has been determined to contain the “studies required” to become a teacher, must be recommended to NYSED by that program, must pass the state certification exam, must pass the state content specialty exam for elementary teachers, must pass the externally evaluated performance assessment called edTPA, must take workshops on the Dignity for All Students Act, and pass a criminal background check based on their fingerprints.

And what does that preparation in an NYSED registered program look like?  City University New York – Hunter College has a program for childhood education in urban settings, and candidates in it must complete 34 credits in theory and methods across either 6 or 4 semesters.   Before reaching student teaching, candidates are placed in the field in three different semesters for a total of 225 hours in experiences that are closely aligned with their coursework and meant to guide them into greater and greater responsibility.  Student teaching is a five day a week experience for a full school day across the entire final semester in conjunction with a seminar course dedicated to the experience.

This is an example of what it takes to earn an initial certification in the state of New York.  And under current rules, charter schools can have no more than 15 uncertified teachers on faculty or have more than 30% of their faculty uncertified, whichever number is lower.  Consider that — Success Academy and other “high performing” networks authorized by SUNY would be able to bypass all of that preparation and experience represented by traditionally prepared teachers in favor of using their own teachers with extremely limited experience to “certify” new hires who have no experience whatsoever.  This is not a pathway for teachers who are professionals empowered with knowledge and experience to make the best decisions for their students, but it is a highly efficient pathway to train people with no experience and relevant knowledge into a system based upon tight behavioral controls and scripted lessons that leads to predictable results:

Further, this system almost certainly appeals to charter school chains who rely upon a rapidly turning over cohort of new teachers, some of whom stay if they adapt quickly to the in-house system, but most of whom eventually leave teaching altogether.  Shortening teacher preparation into 30 instructional hours and 100 classroom hours certainly makes it easier for these schools to recycle teachers at a rapid clip while not having to worry about regulations requiring them to retain teachers whose preparation experiences make them far more likely to want to stay in the profession – and whose accumulated coursework and classroom experiences may give them ideas of their own about how teaching and learning happen that might contradict the in-house model.  If teaching students to become “little test taking machines” does not require deep knowledge, meaningful experiences, and professional discernment, then it really does not matter if preparation to teach requires less time than obtaining a cosmetology license.

Condemnations of the proposed regulatory changes were quick.  The State Board of Regents issued a quick statement of concern, noting that  “The Board of Regents and State Education Department are focused on ensuring that strong and effective teachers with the proper training, experience and credentials are educating New York’s children in every public school – including charter schools. SUNY’s teacher certification proposal is cause for concern in maintaining this expectation.”  United University Professions, the union representing, ironically, faculty at all SUNY campuses was more forceful stating:

SUNY claims its proposed charter school teacher certification regulations “link certification to programs that have demonstrated student success and do not require teachers to complete a set of steps, tests and tasks not designed for teachers embedded in a high-quality school.” SUNY would also establish “certain parameters and requirements for charter schools that wish to operate alternative teacher preparation programs.”

“SUNY appears to be saying that schools that hire teachers who complete college teacher preparation programs and meet the state’s teacher certification standards are not high quality schools. That’s ridiculous and it undermines all the work that’s been done in our state to strengthen teacher preparation and improve the teacher certification exams and process,” said Jamie Dangler, UUP’s vice president for academics and a member of the state’s edTPA Task Force.

The New York Post gushed about the proposed regulations, claiming that it will allow experienced professionals such as engineers and lawyers to become teachers, but once you look at the pathway and the “need” it is filling, one has to seriously wonder how many experienced engineers are itching to switch careers this way?  What SUNY is really doing here is setting up charter schools, which primarily operate within urban school systems, to a lot of African American and Hispanic parents not to worry if their children’s teachers are highly educated, tested, professionals – training them to focus on test preparation above everything else just isn’t that difficult anyway.

Ironically, the regulations may very well help charter schools in the short term while creating massive problems for themselves later on.  Jersey Jazzman explains this situation very well. The draft regulations strongly imply that the certification is not transferable beyond other charter schools authorized by SUNY.  That means that teachers certified this way will not have a way to take their early career experience to public schools in New York – or anywhere else for that matter – and be considered a certified teacher.  As Jazzman points out, this is a way for charter schools to rig the labor market because they are having greater difficulty convincing certified teachers to join them, so that helps them have enough “certified” teachers without attracting ones from traditional programs.  But this will eventually put them into a bind by closing off their ability to “free ride” the public system by taking up the least expensive years of a teaching career while district schools pay experienced teachers more – even if they come over from charters.  That’s not possible with this regulation since charter school “certified” teachers will have no pathway into public school classrooms, so either charters will have to cough up better benefits and working conditions…or they will end up right back where they started with staffing shortages.

At the end of the day, the people who will suffer the most will be the families and children in New York’s SUNY authorized charter schools.  They currently know that a substantial portion of their schools’ faculty have earned certification through programs, that while not perfect by any means, emphasize knowledge, experience, and practice.  Now these schools, who largely serve urban students, will be increasingly staffed by faculty with even less experience and knowledge and who are chosen more for their capacity to be molded into the kind of people who have no qualms about turning 8 year olds into “little test taking machines.”

If the SUNY Board of Trustees is really saying that this is acceptable for anyone’s children, they should take a good long look in a mirror before voting this Fall…and then maybe send their own kids to a classroom like that.

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Filed under Betty Rosa, charter schools, classrooms, Eva Moskowitz, New York Board of Regents, politics, racism, standards, Success Academy, teacher professsionalism

Mayoral Control And Mayoral Responsibility

New York legislators in Albany wrapped up yet another game of “Will we give Bill De Blasio an extension of mayoral control of New York City’s schools or won’t we?” recently.  In the end, law makers held off until the very last minute, passing a two year extension for the mayor that did not include the provisions favoring charter schools Senate Republicans were insisting on but against which Assembly Democrats drew a line.  The two year extension is a victory for De Blasio who has found out that Albany has trouble entrusting control to mayors not named “Mike,” and the lack of pro-charter school provisions shows that the daylight between De Blasio and Albany does not have to grind cooperation between the City and State to a complete halt.

The drama was also largely staged.  Although interested parties issued dire warnings of what would befall city schools without mayoral control, the bluff played by Senate Republicans was just that, a bluff.  Reverting back to pre-mayoral control school governance with only the months of July and August to figure it out was meant to scare Democrats into giving in on charter schools, but the threat rang hollow.  Governor Cuomo, who has never been shy about humiliating Mayor De Blasio, wanted mayoral control extended.  Even though they kept their mouths shut and did not win hoped for concessions, I would not bet against charter school proponents wishing for mayoral control as well.  After all, Mayor De Blasio will not be mayor forever, and if the next mayor is more like Michael Bloomberg, the charter school sector will once again deal with only one person in control of city schools who is indulgent of their wishes.  Certainly simpler than the complex politics of a city school board representing multiple constituencies and independent governance in 32 different community districts.  And even though the charter school cap remains where it is, backroom deals are allowing 22 charter licenses for schools that had their charters revoked or went unused to be recycled and reissued.

And it is not as if the so-called anti-charter stance of the De Blasio administration is so unwavering that the sector gets nothing from Tweed these days:

So if that is the theater involved in the issue, there remains a central, not often asked, question:  What about mayoral control makes it essential for running the nation’s largest school system?  Prior to the 2002 legislation that placed Michael Bloomberg in near complete control of the city schools, New York City schools were run by the central Board of Education whose members were appointed by the mayor and by the five borough presidents and by elected school boards in each of the city’s 32 community districts – which had much greater power before a 1996 law demoted their role.  Mayoral control legislation placed enormous authority into the mayor’s office who appoints the School Chancellor and the majority of members on the Panel for Educational Policy.  The 32 local school boards were replaced by “Community Education Councils” consisting of parents elected by Parent Associations of elementary and middle schools in the community districts and given even less  authority on school matters within those districts than the 1996 law.

Point of information:  I am a member of the Community Education Council in District 3, having just completed my first two year term and having been elected to a second term.  What I am writing here, however, represents only my views as both a New York City school parent and as a scholar of education – I do not presume to speak for the Council.

Proponents for continuing mayoral control certainly believe the current arrangement is crucial for school success in the Big Apple.  Mayor DeBlasio had dire warnings for law makers that not extending his school control would unleash “chaos.”  Speaking through a spokesperson, he said, ““mayoral control is the only proven governance system. Ending it would roll out the red carpet for corruption and chaos in our school system.”  Governor Cuomo was similarly dire about the need for extending control, but was more critical of his fellow Democrats in the Assembly for holding a tight line on issues like lifting the charter school cap: “For the legislature to leave with one million children returning to what we know was a failed management system is a dereliction of duty.”

I am certainly not prepared to say that the former governance structure for city schools was a marked improvement on what we have today – however, it is also a massive oversimplification to say that the previous governance system could not produce results as studies of Community District 2 by Harvard’s Richard Elmore demonstrate.  Further, while advocates of mayoral control have loved to tout various accomplishments, they are less inclined to entertain nuanced discussion and examination of those accomplishments.  Bloomberg Chancellor Joel Klein loved to boast about how the leadership team assembled in New York made great progress on raising achievement and closing the test-measured gap between white and minority students.  The problem with that claim is that it never stood up to careful analysis, as demonstrated by Teachers College Professor Aaron Pallas in analyses here and here.  While Bloomberg and Klein could boast about modest gains in NYC scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, those gains were not substantially better than in other cities that did not follow the Bloomberg/Klein reform program and their claim about narrowing the achievement gap was simply false:

Looking across ELA and math scores on state exams for New York City students in grades three through eight in 2003, the achievement gap separating black and Latino students from white and Asian students was .74 of a standard deviation. In 2011, the achievement gap was .73 of a standard deviation. This represents a 1 percent reduction in the magnitude of the achievement gap. The careful reader will note that the mayor has thus overstated the cut in the achievement gap by a factor of 50.

What about for NAEP? In 2003, the achievement gap, averaged across reading and math scores in the fourth and eighth grades, was .76 of a standard deviation. In 2011, the gap was .78 of a standard deviation. Far from being cut in half, the achievement gap on the NAEP assessment actually increased by 3 percent between 2003 and 2011.

Mayor Bloomberg said, “We have closed the gap between black and Latino kids and white and Asian kids. We have cut it in half.” But the gap has scarcely budged; it’s shrunk by 1 percent on the New York State tests, and increased by 3 percent on NAEP.

These issues are frustrating, but frankly to be expected as it is the rare politician who is willing to admit that he has spent a decade with unchallenged control of a school system, sought test measured validation of his approach, and came up with belly button lint instead.  However, it also draws attention to another aspect of mayoral control that hasn’t been discussed in the latest Albany spectacle.  Namely, who holds the mayor responsible and over what does the mayor take responsibility in this governance structure?  The Community District School boards were stripped of most of their authority prior to mayoral control, but they retained input on issues like hiring superintendents which, at least nominally, kept that closer to school district parents.  Today, that all flows through the Mayor’s office who appoints the extremely powerful Chancellor and has a majority of seats on the PEP.  The mayor may be subject to election, but it goes without saying that the path to that election does not necessitate a mayor who is attentive to what is going on in every school in every district across the city.  In fact, in his last election in 2009, Michael Bloomberg lost the Bronx to challenger William Thompson by 24.2 percentage points.  I dare say that he lost in most if not all of the 6 Community School Districts in the Bronx, yet he continued to control school governance there.  The people closest to the schools in those districts only have limited say in holding the mayor responsible for what goes on there, and their post-election voices are greatly limited.

This matters even more because the mayor’s office does not always hold itself responsible for the very schools it controls.  Consider charter school policy.  While it is true that the city does not control charter schools (except for the very small number authorized by NYCDOE), it is also true that the amount of daylight between Mayor Bloomberg and charter friendly politicians in Albany was nonexistent.  The Bloomberg years openly welcomed charter school expansion, aided in finding them spaces within city school buildings, and actively encouraged parents to seek educational options outside the control of DOE, setting up an environment where DOE run schools would have to compete not only among themselves but in competition with privately run organizations that were able to fund slick, professional marketing campaigns.  Success Academy alone in 2010 paid over $400,000 to a single marketing firm, Mission Control, Inc., to promote itself in a direct mail campaign to parents, and it continued this campaign in subsequent years, spending on pre-paid postage for application forms mailed directly to homes. Using such professional services, the charter network is able to portray itself as highly desirable and prestigious to prospective families.  And what, exactly, did Mayor Bloomberg, who welcomed the Success Network at every opportunity, do to position the schools directly under his control to compete in THAT environment?

chirp

This problem has continued into the De Blasio administration which, while showing much more willingness to support district schools with programs, has not yet grasped that Superintendents and building Principals are largely left alone to “market” their schools with no specific expertise and only funds that can be raised from parents.

The irony here is both evident and cruel:  mayoral control as exercised by Michael Bloomberg helped put schools serving the most vulnerable children in the city into a situation where they were simultaneously responsible for improving academic outcomes while following accommodation rules that charters are exempted from AND for marketing themselves in an environment where private organizations spend lavishly on direct marketing campaigns and the DOE schools are left to rely on $500 and whatever creativity they have on staff.  With parents bombarded from all directions by everyone except their zoned schools, it is no surprise that DOE schools in certain parts on New York have seen sharp declines in enrollment – which appears to be a feature rather than a bug of the system as set up by Albany law makers and abetted by Tweed under Bloomberg.  In Community District 3 in Manhattan, schools north of 110th Street have seen a decline from 2206 K-5 students in 2006 to 1469 K-5 students in 2015, an enrollment loss of 33% in less than a decade.

D3 Enrollment

However, if Michael Bloomberg accepted no responsibility to help the schools he enthusiastically put into competition actually compete, then his successor, Bill De Blasio has shown no real comprehension of the problem either.  Schools in areas with high charter saturation still rely upon shoestring budgets and ad hoc efforts by community members and school personnel instead of a enjoying a coordinated and funded strategy from the office that has direct control over them.  It is fundamentally unfair to expect that school principals, who have to possess a vast array of skills related to instructional leadership, management leadership, staff development, evaluation, school law, budgeting, and parent relationships, add on marketing and graphic design skill sets that are subject to their own degree programs.  Meanwhile, Tweed approaches maintaining enrollment at schools as if it was still the early 1990s.

Mayor De Blasio fought hard to keep mayoral control.  It is past time for the Mayor’s office to look at the impact of that control on the schools it runs and take mayoral responsibility for the sustainability of fully public schools in New York City.

 

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Filed under #blacklivesmatter, charter schools, Corruption, Eva Moskowitz, Funding, politics, schools, Success Academy

The Church of Choice

There are many reasons why various advocates representing different constituencies support school choice policies.  Some of them argue from a civil rights perspective, noting that parents with financial means are able to seek out school options for their children and propose that opening urban schools to parental choice gives those options to families in poverty.  Others come at the question from a more laissez faire economic approach, believing that government control in any sector is less desirable than competition among various entities creating innovation.  Still others are, undoubtedly, hucksters and profiteers who have seen the relatively new school choice sector as an easily exploited honey pot that is still too loosely regulated to catch fraud in the form of double dealing and self enrichment.  There are compelling and data based reasons to question the first two arguments – and the third presents an obvious problem that even many choice advocates do not support – but there should be no doubt that deeply held and sincere beliefs animate many school choice advocates.

And then there is whatever the hell Betsy DeVos believes.

There is no doubt that Betsy DeVos believes in school choice, and her record is one of funneling large sums of her personal fortune to influence politicians to embrace competition among schools as educational policy.    Further, DeVos’ record in Michigan demonstrates that she is unusually reluctant to subject school choice options to meaningful oversight.  Now that she is in Washington, her general attitude towards choice as a goal in and of itself is evident on a national scale.

Secretary DeVos raised eyebrows at her confirmation hearing when she skirted the question of “equal accountability” for all schools as poised by Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia:

Her unwillingness to commit to “equal accountability” was surprising to people who agree that public funds come with public obligations and that those should be governed by principles of equality and equity.  DeVos betrays no such commitment, preferring to let entities receiving public funds make their own decisions even if that means they are not held to the same levels of accountability.  This was thrown into even more stark relief more recently when she indirectly signaled fourteen times that her Department of Education would not protect LGBTQ students and students with disabilities from discrimination under all circumstances.  Asked about how her department would respond to voucher schools that refused to accommodate LGBTQ students and students with disabilities, she replied over and over again that “Any institution receiving federal funding is required to follow federal law.”  The problem with that response, no matter how many times it was repeated, is that federal law is either silent (on LGBTQ students) or not fully consistent (on students with disabilities).  Much like “accountability” versus “equal accountability” subtle differences matter, and Betsy DeVos’ inclination is defer to making more choices operable rather than to defer to making sure those choices are equitable and required to serve all students.

Secretary DeVos’ faith in choice is so firm that she has an alarming tendency to insert it into her remarks in various locations regardless of the appropriateness.  In February remarks after meeting leaders of a group of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs), Secretary DeVos could not help herself from framing them as “pioneers” of “schools choice.”  While it is true that HBCUs arose because African Americans were systematically barred from educational opportunity, the “choice” they represented at their founding was the ONLY choice available to their students and to most of their faculty.  Rather than properly noting the full force of America’s Apartheid Era and how it conspired to keep African Americans from full citizenship, DeVos said, that HBCUs are “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.”  That’s not praising HBCUs for their brave roll in trying to alleviate injustice;  that’s hijacking their history.

While many choice advocates clearly believe in the power of competition in a marketplace, Betsy DeVos seems to assign that marketplace capabilities few akin to magic without recognizing any limitations.  In remarks to a technology and innovation conference in May, Secretary DeVos lauded innovation in mobile technology and lamented why such forces have not been unleashed on education:

Think of it like your cell phone. AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile may all have great networks, but if you can’t get cell phone service in your living room, then your particular provider is failing you, and you should have the option to find a network that does work. Let’s be clear. This shouldn’t apply only to K-12 education — we need to innovate, reform, and iterate across the entire education spectrum. Higher education must constantly look for ways to update their models to best serve students as well.

DeVos, not unlike many other free market purists not contained to education reform, refuses to acknowledge some massive distinctions between innovation in mobile service and innovation in providing a public service like school.  First, mobile service is a massively regulated sector of the economy and operates under a myriad of rules to protect consumers.  In fact, most of the competition lauded by choice advocates of proof of the market’s power takes place within a regulatory framework, but DeVos’ advocacy record says she does not strongly believe in fettering a school marketplace with such rules.  In DeVos’ “free” market ideal, schools locally make choices about who to accommodate and where to locate regardless of what the most vulnerable consumers need.  Second, the ability to make a choice from a wide range of choices is integral to the competition she extols, and one of the reasons why we have anti-trust laws.  The electromagnetic spectrum is certainly able to hold a number of choices in mobile service.  Most of our nation’s public school districts would incur staggering travel costs for students to implement “choice” or would have to run a complex and inefficient system of schools too small to offer comprehensive programs.  Finally, and this cannot be emphasized enough, the marketplace is not and never was designed to offer everyone equally good choices.  One of the most powerful features of a free marketplace is the ability of customers to shop not merely among an array of choices that meet their needs, but also among an array of choices that fit their budget.  A person can buy a luxury automobile, and economy car, or even a used car that only works 70% of the time but serves his needs (most of the time).  The problem with applying that to public education is that nobody NEEDS the school equivalent of a 1986 Yugo.  They need what everyone else needs – equal access to a free, sound, public education.  I will happily admit that we currently are failing to provide that, but the answer to that challenge is not to be found in carving up our genuinely inadequate resources and spreading them without oversight into a maze of providers who are not equally accountable with the schools they compete with.  This is not a recipe for providing all parents with a rich array of choices that are all of high quality, and the results in districts like Detroit, where DeVos’ favored policies have ruled for some time, speak loudly to that.

Even though DeVos is so ideological about market forces, she is far less ideological about making certain that traditional public schools can compete in that market.  How else can anyone explain her support of the education budget proposal that is set to slash over $10 billion from needed after school programs, teacher training, and grants and loans for students because in her estimation the budget “returns” control to states and gives parents, you guessed it, choice?  In that same hearing, DeVos avoided a question about a religious school in Indiana that gets voucher funds but will not admit children of same sex couples, saying only “The bottom line is we believe that parents are the best equipped to make choices for their children’s schooling and education decisions…Too many children today are trapped in schools that don’t work for them. We have to do something different than continuing a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach.”  It should be noted that this is a budget that even is getting side-eyed by school choice friendly venues.  Campbell Brown’s reform advocacy site noted that the “winners” in the Trump education budget are school choice and….Secretary DeVos’ security detail, while losers include college students, special populations, technical education, and the Office for Civil Rights.

Secretary DeVos believes in school choice in, quite literally, the worst way.  She ascribes competition and the free market with powers it does not have when it comes to creating change in a core democratic institution.  She is hostile to oversight and equal accountability for the variety of privately run/publicly funded organizations she wants to see proliferate.  She is indifferent to whether or not those organizations welcome all students who seek them out.  She has no qualms about traditional public schools, along with the families that choose them, being entirely disadvantaged in her marketplace disruption.  She is willing to frame literally anything, even schools created in response to Apartheid, as an example of “choice”.  Not even the evidence of how badly awry her efforts in Michigan have gone can shake her.  School choice advocates may arrive at their support by many means, but Betsy DeVos has elevated it to near religious status.  She cannot be reasoned out of her positions largely because she never reasoned herself into them.

 

 

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Filed under Betsy DeVos, charter schools, Funding, politics, School Choice